By Honey Rogoff
The Yeshiva University men’s basketball team has enjoyed a spectacular 2020 season. On a school-record 24-game win streak, the Maccabees are thriving. The journey they have been on to reach this point has not been an easy one. The team has worked incredibly hard and tirelessly to achieve all that they have. This season, the Macs have climbed the ranks of the top 25 Division III basketball teams, currently standing at number 15. So, what has changed? How are the YU Macs consistently upping their game?
New to the team are Max Leibowitz, Ofek Reef, Jasper Newman, Alon Jakubowitz, and Ryan Bokor. Each member offers valuable new skill sets and opportunities. With a team consisting of 16 players, there is plenty of talent to be brought onto the court.
Sophomore and second-year team member, guard Ryan Turell, SSSB ‘22, reflected on what has improved over this season and last: “Just the chemistry. We all got better and we have new additions to the team like O[fek Reef] and Bar [Alluf]. On top of that Eitan [Halpert] and Caleb [Milobsky] have [been] nasty this year.”
With a consistently rising win streak, the stakes are high, but the team remains calm and collected. “The team took everything one game at a time so we played every game like that was our most important game of the season[…]” remarked Jakubowitz, SSSB ‘22. “[…]of course the expectations rose but we expect even more from ourselves than anyone expects from us.” Turell states that there is no added pressure by the increasing wins, but that as a team, “[…]we just have been taking it one game at a time and not worrying about anything else.”
The Macs have made impressive strides over the past couple seasons, all leading up to this record-breaking season. Over the duration of the 2017-2018 season, the team scored a collective 2,236 points in 29 games. Pushing this limit in the 2018-2019 season, a fantastic total of 2,305 points were scored over 27 games. Though this season may not be over yet, the Macs have already scored an impressive 2,238 points in just 26 games. As for wins, they’ve only gone up: the team went 18-11 in the 2017-2018 season, followed by 19-8 in the 2018-2019 season. This school-record 24-game win streak during the regular season is accompanied by only one loss — their game against Occidental College.
Being goal-oriented has proven to be beneficial this season. Guard Ofek Reef, SSSB ‘22, commented on the team’s overall goal: “The actual goal is winning the conference and making it deep in the NCAA tournament. The streak solidifies the capability of the team and builds up our confidence to achieve our end goal, which we set at the beginning of the season.”
Aside from reaching and surpassing new achievements within YU, this season has been filled with personal achievements. In January 2020, forward Gabriel Leifer, SSSB ‘21, reached 1,000 career points, followed by Turell reaching this milestone in February 2020. This achievement made Turell the fastest player in school history to reach the 1,000-career point plateau. Turell also achieved Skyline Rookie of the Week on five occasions during the 2018-2019 season. Three spots were earned by YU Macs players on the Skyline Player of the Week ranks in 2019. Leifer and Turell collectively won five spots on the Skyline Player of the Week this season. Reef earned four spots on Skyline Rookie of the Week. With Reef following close behind Turell’s Skyline achievements from last season, the pair has been recognized as a power duo. This season’s success provides a positive outlook for the results of the upcoming Skyline Conference Tournament, for which playoffs began this week.
College basketball teams have the responsibilities of keeping up with their schoolwork, as well as attending practices, and staying in shape. They must perform in school and on the court to the best of their ability. The Macs have these same responsibilities, in addition to a dual curriculum.
When asked about having to balance schoolwork and the responsibilities of being on the team, Jakubowitz responded, “It was a bit of an adjustment balancing class, work and the team but eventually you figure out a schedule and stick to it. It’s gotten a lot easier since the beginning of the year.” Time management being a key factor, Turell agreed, “It’s tough but you have to manage your time right. If you do that you’ll be set.” Good sportsmanship is also vital to success and maintaining a work-life balance. It’s evident that this is something the Macs have no problem with, as Reef remarked, “Everyone on the team is willing to help one another with class work which helps a lot.” With rigorous courses and a dual curriculum, this team thrives under pressure.
The Macs are looking at a home court advantage for the Skyline Conference Tournament, due to their 16-0 conference play record. Winning the first game of playoffs against the US Merchant Marine Mariners on Tuesday, February 25, they are set for another game at home on Thursday, February 27. The game on February 25 started with a strong Macs lead, with them up 38-24 by halftime. They brought the game to a close with an impressive 75-57 win. Breaking school records, personal player improvement, staying focused on the task at hand, and much more, have carried this team to new heights. The men’s basketball team has worked hard this season to improve their game and bring the Macs to victory.